Ralph Steadman Leaves His Mark

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In 1970, when Ralph Steadman was a 33-year-old unknown artist fresh off the boat from England, Scanlan’s Magazine offered him an assignment that would change his life: to accompany a writer named Hunter S. Thompson to the Kentucky Derby. Their escapades became Thompson’s article “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” That piece, a landmark of the New Journalism, was the first in a long line of collaborations that would come to define both men’s careers.

With works like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, '72, Thompson and Steadman invented a new style of journalism called Gonzo: “You go to cover a story, ostensibly,” he explains. “But, in fact, you don’t cover the story, you become the story.”

While it was Thompson who often took center stage in his own stories, there could be no Gonzo without Steadman’s violently splattered, beautifully twisted illustrations. “It’s the trademark, if you will,” Steadman tells Kurt Andersen. “It’s more memorable when you’ve got something to refer to.”

Steadman was born in Wales and didn’t begin drawing until he came across a newspaper ad for a correspondence course. Upon finishing, Steadman moved to London, where he was offered a job as a cartoonist in an editorial office. As for his trademark splatter style, Steadman tells Kurt exactly where that came from: “clumsiness.”

Steadman is the subject of a new documentary, For No Good Reason, which comes out on DVD September 2.

Kurt Andersen by Ralph Steadman (click on the images to view larger).

Music Playlist

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